Former South African champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, in the Regent Racing BAT, upstaged some more fancied teams to win the Special Vehicle category in a dramatic Nissan Dealer 400 in Darling.
The opening event of the Absa Off Road Championship produced dollops of drama with Marsh and Groenewald, in the Regent Racing BAT, coming home 34 seconds ahead of Free State pair Pieter Ruthven and Dewaal Boshoff in the Ruwacon BAT. It was a first podium finish for the Freestaters with the pair edging out another former SA champion, Karl-Heinz Sullwald, and son Quintin in the Sullwald Transport Zarco.
Sullwald’s brother Herman, partnered by Paul Helberg, were fourth in another Sullwald Transport Zarco with local crew Bez Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn completing the top five in the Adenco BAT. A terrific drive, with the pair plagued by gearbox problems saw Bezuidenhout and de Bruyn take the Class B honours.
There was early drama when reigning South African champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the Motorite BAT, rolled several times after hitting a ditch. The pair were still in the car when they were hit by the Tyre Rack Jimco driven by Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya who hit the same ditch and also rolled.
The Motorite car then caught fire and was completely wrecked. All four crew members were thoroughly shaken up with Bergmann slightly concussed and Bodhanya needing medical treatment for neck injuries.
A number of crews in both the Special Vehicle and Production Vehicle categories lost time when they stopped to provide assistance at the accident scene. Some of them reported later that it had taken them time to settle down and regain their rhythm.
With last year’s championship runners-up Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) crashing out in the Friday prologue to determine start positions for the race, the accident wreaked further havoc on fancied Class A runners. The ultra consistent Marsh and Groenewald, who undertook a stringent fitness campaign in the off-season, took full advantage of the situation.
“We put in a lot of work during the off-season and it paid dividends,” said Marsh. “It was a tough event but the road book was great and the route marking top class.
“We could not have asked for a better start to the season, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going.”
Ruthven and Boshoff reported a clean run for their best finish to date, with both Sullwald crews having to overcome niggling mechanical problems. Bezuidenhout and de Bruyn suffered from a gearbox problem in the prologue and in the race and finally finished with first and third gear only.
“That was hard work,” said Bezuidenhout, “but the end result was worth it. At one stage after the prologue we weren’t sure we would start the race.”
There were also mechanical problems for former SA champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau in the Total Porter, who were sixth overall after power steering and fan belt problems. The pair started from pole position after winning the Friday prologue.
Other high profile crews to fall by the wayside included Brandon Harcus and Richard Leeke (Motorite BAT), Gary Bertholdt and Pierre Arries in the Atlas Copco Porter and Gary Gillingham and VZ van Zyl in their Shell Botswana BAT. They were hit by a variety of problems with Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer among the non starters in the new Century Racing CR1.
With reigning SA champion Jan Kraaij and new co-driver Tiddo Voogt (Keymax BAT) running into clutch problems second place in Class B went to veteran former champion Giel Nel and Deon de Kock in the LUK Africa Truggy. Third were Alastair Stubbs and Marc de Chalain, in the Stafix Racing Viper.
The new Special Vehicle category in off road racing, Class P, was won first time out by brothers David and Gary White in the Ruwacon BAT. They came in ahead of Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco with favourites Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Raceco) among those entered in the did not finish column.